|Jun Märkl caught spectacle and nuance of Ravel masterpiece.|
As the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra struggles to figure out what kind of "new normal" it will have, a major focus is the search for a new music director.
Based on the evidence of his past success as a guest conductor, Jun Märkl has superior qualifications for the post of artistic adviser. The job title leaves open the question of how good his advice may be, but his rapport with the ISO after numerous appearances on the Hilbert Circle Theatre podium bodes well.
CEO James Johnson, in a welcoming speech to Friday night's audience, noted that the Japanese-German maestro's return conducting engagement marks his performing debut in his transitional position. Märkl delivered magnificently in the program's second half, to be repeated at 5:30 this afternoon, with a scintillating performance of Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé."
The work was last performed here under the baton of the most recent music director, Krzysztof Urbanski, in 2014. That memorable production involved dancers from Dance Kaleidoscope, choreographed by the company's artistic director, David Hochoy. Necessarily, my attention was focused on the stage, so it was good to enjoy the full sonic spectrum of the score in a concert version.
A missing element that invariably makes a performance of the complete ballet more thrilling is the wordless chorus, which was used in the 2014 performance. With the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, it made for one of the great collaborations of recent ISO history. Given pandemic-related strictures on choral singing, such completeness was probably inadvisable this time around.
The subsequent loss of atmosphere — Ravel's evocation of the mythical setting on an ancient Greek island — is considerable. As full as the orchestral palette is, the effect is a little bit like watching "The Wizard of Oz" without the heroine's fantasy song "Over the Rainbow" to introduce the adventure. In a sense, to hear the complete "Daphnis et Chloé" without the chorus is akin to getting a realistic reminder that Dorothy never actually left Kansas.
Be that as it may, the evocation of the ballet's scenario struck the ear agreeably throughout. The conductor drew from the orchestra precise and enlivened dance rhythms as the "Danse religieuse" yielded to the "Danse generale" in the opening tableau. The bassoon-and-percussion hints of awkwardness were delicious as the goatherd Dorcon (great name — did Ravel know Yiddish?) tries to attract the heroine. His attempts are laughed away by the orchestra, and it was one of several graceful touches in Friday's performance.
The menacing pirates were vigorously depicted in an exhibition of Ravel's mastery of orchestration at its most forceful. When another touch of atmosphere — the wind machine the composer calls for — came through as rather wispy, it hardly mattered. We were by then in thrall to the interpretation, guided with detailed cueing from the conductor, working without score. That was probably reassuring to an ensemble recently unused to complexity (after the oft-repeated, comparatively lucrative production of Yuletide Celebration last month). The emergence of the great shadow of Pan that climaxes the second tableau was awe-inspiring.
The depiction of daybreak at the start of the third tableau, which accounts for the popularity of the more often-performed second suite that Ravel drew from the ballet score, sounded both firm and subtle. The duo of the title characters paying tribute to the myth of Pan and Syrinx, highlighted by the excellent flute soloing of Rebecca Price Arrensen, exuded charm and reverence. Shortly thereafter, Märkl managed adroitly the ebb and flow of the pulse-pounding "Danse generale" to bring the piece to a rousing conclusion. The way the orchestra joined in the huge ovation during one of Märkl's curtain calls, and the way he responded to it, set a seal upon their mutual regard.
To open the concert, Märkl's return was enhanced by the engagement of the reliably exuberant
|Gil Shaham enjoyed his work in two compositions.|
violinist Gil Shaham, who occupied the spotlight in two works, the Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and Pablo de Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." On his last ISO visit, he was even busier, conducting as well. And, as in November 2016, he seemed buoyantly happy to be there. The attitude communicated itself to audience and orchestra like.
Bologne is among black composers of historical interest who have been enjoying a vogue in recent years. Showcasing the solo instrument against a large string orchestra, the piece has an inviting classical-period stature. The first movement sports distinctive themes; the second, a somber Largo, has the feeling of a baroque aria. There's a steady throbbing in the accompaniment as it goes along; you can hear Handel in it. The music's lyricism is restrained yet deeply felt, it seems. The rondo finale, which is concise to the point of abruptness, gives the soloist lots of busywork. It amounts to a distinct falling-off from how the concerto begins.
The familiar Sarasate treatment of several themes, well-placed in an expressively coherent order from Bizet's tragic opera "Carmen," brought to the stage a larger orchestra. Shaham's well-centered tone allowed for the violin's sound to penetrate in all contexts. The piece gave him great opportunity for display, which he relished in a straightforward manner.
The nimbleness and flair of his left hand reminded me of the dazzling aplomb of Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012). Romping along the fingerboard seemed like child's play to this exuberant artist. The Habanera and Seguidilla insinuated themselves in the seductive manner of the title character (though I take exception to the program note's labeling Carmen a prostitute). The harmonics sang out, and the left-hand pizzicati sparkled. Shaham's playing worked hand-in-glove with the conductor's sympathetic control of the orchestra. The touristy title of the program, "Greetings from France," was loaded with exclamation points by virtue of Friday's performance.